Ham Radio Volunteers Shift Gears to Handle Mountain Bike Event Emergency
The 2014 Whiskey Off-Road Mountain Bike Event on April 26 in and around Prescott, Arizona, quickly developed into an emergency exercise for Yavapai Amateur Radio Club volunteers who were supporting communication for the 11th annual race. Some 2000 amateur and professional mountain bike riders took part in the 50-mile event. About an hour after it began, however, temperatures dropped, and riders were confronted with a mixture of rain, high wind, sleet, and snow. As the weather worsened, some riders dropped out at the second checkpoint, returning to Prescott via a connecting road. Other riders, however, soldiered on for another two checkpoints, at which time another 50 participants quit due to the worsening weather, with some exhibiting symptoms of possible hypothermia. Event communications quickly switched into evacuation mode, and the net control station contacted all checkpoints to determine how many riders needed transportation back to Prescott.
“Net control worked with race, search-and-rescue, and other emergency personnel to coordinate transportation to evacuate these riders,” Yavapai County Arizona ARES District Emergency Coordinator Lloyd Halgunseth, WA6ZZJ, explained. “Personal vehicles and a bus were used in the evacuation.”
With evacuation transportation on its way, Amateur Radio volunteers and race personnel staffing checkpoints provided warm refuge in their own vehicles for some of the riders who were suffering the most. The race continued, and Amateur Radio and event communications were used to locate some missing riders.
Once things settled down, the net shifted back into its accustomed role of gathering race updates from the checkpoints. Everyone was brought in safely, albeit a bit cold. Abandoned bikes were retrieved and returned to the event center.
Despite the challenging conditions, more than 300 cyclists completed the entire course. The weather front broke later in the morning, and the second race began around noon. Race officials shortened the second ride from a planned 25 miles to 15 miles, and it finished with no major incidents.
“During this emergency communications exercise, Amateur Radio enabled a quick response by race officials, which kept a bad situation from getting worse,” Halgunseth said. “This response contributed to the overall success of this three day event.” The Yavapai Amateur Radio Club is an ARRL-affiliated Special Service Club. — Thanks to Frank Bender, K8FB